Welcome to The Crock Pot, your one-stop shop for all the SEC football news, notes, quotes and mishaps you might have missed during the weekend. Here’s what we’re stewing over …
First, let’s remember what happened three weeks ago when Auburn and coach Gus Malzahn downright dismantled then-No. 1 Georgia in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers’ 40-17 beatdown was the largest ever handed a No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff era.
It was a win worthy of celebration — one that avenged a crushing loss to the Bulldogs in 2016 and kept Auburn in control of its own destiny. And yet the media chatter was all about Malzahn eyeing a return to his home state, were Arkansas to fire coach Bret Bielema, following an assumed Auburn loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
So much for that. Malzahn would be crazy to leave The Plains now that his team has downed two No. 1 teams in the span of three weeks, both by double-digit margins. Georgia, which has a proclivity to fall short in these sort of make-or-break games, is as good a team as any fielded during the Mark Richt years.
But Alabama, losing by double digits in drama-free fashion? That doesn’t happen under Nick Saban.
The last time the Crimson Tide lost by more than a touchdown was Jan. 2, 2014, in a 45-31 Sugar Bowl defeat against Oklahoma. You’d have to go back three more years, to Oct. 9, 2010, to find the next-most-recent Saban loss of that caliber (South Carolina, 35-21).
Call it a product of Alabama’s insane standards of consistent excellence, but Auburn’s win on Saturday had to be equal parts shocking and refreshing for the average SEC fan. Last year, the conference was clearly a one-team league. In 2017, three SEC programs enter conference championship week with a shot at the College Football Playoff. A fourth team (LSU) could finish ranked inside the top-15.
The other knock — the SEC’s perceived lack of coaching talent — is a bit dicier. Recent whiffs by Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas, along with the downfall of Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, have followed the departure of some excellent coaches (Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, James Franklin, Mark Richt and Les Miles, to name a few).
But perhaps Malzahn can be one to fill the coaching void. He’s 2-3 against Saban, making Malzahn and Meyer the only active coaches with multiple wins against Alabama’s star coach. Others who have done so: Spurrier, Miles, Bob Stoops and Gene Chizik (who Malzahn helped do so once).
That’s mighty good company.
The coaching carousel: Settling for options C, D and E
The coaching carousel is always a bit of a gamble. Maybe you fire your head football coach with three or four top candidates in mind, and none of them bite or they’re poached by other schools.
Sometimes, that can end up working out alright (see: South Carolina, Will Muschamp). Others, that can work out disastrously.
Florida and Tennessee both seem to be moving onto their No. 3 choices, if reports are to be believed.
The Gators missed on Chip Kelly, who signed on with UCLA, and may have lost in-state darling Scott Frost to his alma mater, Nebraska. There’s also a chance Frost stays at UCF. If Frost is out of the picture, Oregon’s Willie Taggart has to be next.
The Vols, meanwhile, tried and failed to court Jon Gruden (again) as well as Kelly. They’ve now reportedly turned their gaze toward Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, an annual product of the coaching rumor mill. Our guess is he stays in Starkville, as has been the case for the past nine seasons.
Why would Kelly pass up two premier SEC programs like Florida and Tennessee? Think of it this way: UCLA is an easy place to recruit. Jim Mora Jr., an exceedingly mediocre coach, led the Bruins to 10-win seasons twice. UCLA also doesn’t have to compete with Alabama or any of the other SEC powers-that-be. The stiffest competition Kelly would face in his own division is USC, followed by… Arizona? Utah?
Then again, Kelly has always been a West Coast guy. There’s clearly a personal preference. It’d be the same case with Frost if he took the Nebraska job (although the Big Ten West is a mighty weak division, too).
Here’s our updated list of which guys we think will wind up coaching in the SEC next season:
- Florida: Willie Taggart (Oregon)
- Tennessee: Greg Schiano (Ohio State)
- Texas A&M: Chad Morris (SMU)
- Arkansas: ???
- Ole Miss: Neal Brown (Troy)
Regarding Arkansas, Malzahn should now be out of the running. Memphis coach Mike Norvell is reportedly negotiating a contract extension. And then there was this gem tweeted out by Football Scoop last night:
After Gus won tonight, several coaches reached out saying Arkansas’ search feels like a mess. No one knows who is running the search. Needs clear leadership coaches believe in.
— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) November 26, 2017
Yeah. The Hogs had little choice but to move on from Bret Bielema, but this search could be a barrel of laughs.
Highlight of the week: A fitting metaphor appears
One can only imagine that this is how most fans felt watching Saturday’s thrilling clash between Florida and Florida State. Throwing up now and again, well, it has to happen.
— Derek Tyson (@DerekJTyson) November 25, 2017
SEC power rankings: Sizing up the conference entering bowl season
- Auburn: By beating Georgia again, the Tigers can become the first two-loss team to make the playoff. Jarrett Stidham lived up to the hype this season, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for nearly 2,700 yards, 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Kerryon Johnson is a monster. The offensive line found its footing, and the defense remains a top-10 unit. (Last week: 2)
- Alabama: The Brian Daboll offense has averaged just 24 points per game against its stiffest competition: Florida State, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. Jalen Hurts rarely makes mistakes, with just 1 interception all season, but he’s just not the type of passer that can consistently beat teams he’ll face in the postseason. The Crimson Tide needs to commit to its running game again. Somehow, Daboll gave his running backs no more than 6 carries apiece against Auburn. That led to a number of tough third-down situations, where Alabama went just 3-for-11 on attempted conversions. (Last week: 1)
- Georgia: All but one of Georgia’s 11 regular season wins came by double digits. Collectively, the Bulldogs outscored the SEC East and rival Georgia Tech, 285-79, in 2017. They’ll get their shot at revenge against Auburn next week. (Last week: 3)
- LSU: Dave Aranda’s defense picked off Nick Starkel three times and held the Texas A&M rushing attack to 2 yards per carry. The comeback win against Auburn has aged well, while the Troy loss feels like a distant memory. Ed Orgeron performed well in Year 1, and if Matt Canada can develop Myles Brennan into a top SEC quarterback, the Tigers will be well-positioned in 2018. (Last week: 5)
- Mississippi State: Losing Nick Fitzgerald to such a brutal injury is tough, but losing to Ole Miss has to hurt more. The Bulldogs were a field goal away from upsetting Alabama and return a talented core of players in 2018. They’ve just got to make sure Mullen sticks around. (Last week: 4)
- South Carolina: The Gamecocks got shut down by Clemson again, but if there’s any consolation, it’s that this one was more competitive. Will Muschamp has delivered a pretty impressive Year 2 at South Carolina, leading the program to an 8-4 record and a second-place finish in the SEC East. Another good recruiting class could give this team what it needs to better compete with Georgia — and let’s not forget the Gamecocks only lost to the Bulldogs by 14 points this season. (Last week: 6)
- Missouri: The turnaround of 2017 saw Barry Odom’s squad streamroll through the second half of its schedule. Sure, the competition was weak, but a 7-5 finish is probably better than what Tigers fans expected in September. Drew Lock broke the SEC’s single-season passing touchdown record with 41, and its top three running backs all averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry. (Last week: 8)
- Texas A&M: We’re awaiting word of Kevin Sumlin’s reported dismissal, but it’s not shocking that four straight years of at least five losses doesn’t quite cut it in College Station. Ending the season with double-digit losses to Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU doesn’t help. (Last week: 7)
- Ole Miss: Have to say, Matt Luke and offensive coordinator Phil Longo did a great job given the circumstances, and beating Mississippi State in Starkville is no joke. Whoever takes over will have a decent nucleus to build around. (Last week: 9)
- Florida: Gave Florida State a fight for three quarters, but the same ugly offensive problems did the Gators in once again. How far we’ve come since the days of Spurrier and Meyer. (Last week: 10)
- Kentucky: As my colleague Kyle Tucker points out, we should expect more from Mark Stoops’ defense in Year 5; Louisville, Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State torched this unit. (Last week: 11)
- Arkansas: Lost another heartbreaker and sent Bielema packing. The rebuild may not be a quick one. (Last week: 12)
- Vanderbilt: Another losing season for the Commodores, albeit one capped off with another win over the rival Vols. Vandy has now won four of the last six games in this series. (Last week: 13)
- Tennessee: Rock bottom. A historic low point. It does not get any worse than this, folks. John Currie better make the right call. (Last week: 14)
Hittin’ the links: SEC Country news you may have missed
- Historic Iron Bowl win proves Gus Malzahn has rebuilt Auburn football into legitimate contender (Justin Ferguson)
- Alabama left waiting, hoping it’s still in the national title hunt (Christopher Walsh)
- Troy to today: How LSU rallied from an embarrassing loss to a 9-3 finish (Nick Suss)
- Bulldogs, Kirby Smart ride Roquan Smith-led defense into SEC Championship Game (Chip Towers)
- Top 10 memorable quotes of Bret Bielema era at Arkansas (Trent Shadid)
- AD Ray Tanner addresses South Carolina student conduct during Clemson game (Hale McGranahan)
- Season was ‘teed up’ for Cats, and Mark Stoops’ defense torpedoed it (Kyle Tucker)
- College football rankings 2017: Projecting the AP Top 25 after Week 13 (Alex Smith)
Tweet of the year: All for naught
If Butch Jones doesn’t have to carry his belongings out of his office in the turnover trash can this will have all been a waste. pic.twitter.com/gmB26ryhFz
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 12, 2017